Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Hats off to Derby Day

Mint julep

Associated Press

Mint julep

food writer Lindsey Nair

Food writer Lindsey Nair

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The Kentucky Derby may last only about two minutes, but the preceding partying in Louisville lasts at least two weeks.

Across the country, native Kentuckians, horse lovers, sports fans, and food-and-drink devotees alike have embraced the race as an excuse to cheer on thoroughbreds, wear big hats, sip mint juleps and generally have a rollicking time.

This year, the derby coincides with Cinco de Mayo, making for an explosion of food possibilities. But because we've talked about Cinco de Mayo in this column before, I thought we'd honor The Run for the Roses with some traditional Derby Day recipes.

Mint Julep

Serves 6 to 8

No consensus has been reached on who invented this Southern cocktail and when, but it dates to the early 19th century. Historians at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia say mint juleps have been served there since 1816.

However, since 1938, this cocktail has been most closely associated with the Kentucky Derby. It can be made with gin or vodka (the vodka version's called a Kremlin Colonel), but don't talk to Louisvillians about that. They'd say it's heresy to leave out that fine Kentucky bourbon.

This is the official Churchill Downs recipe for mint juleps. It is best to use Kentucky bourbon, and the crushed ice is imperative. In the absence of a mint julep cup, use a highball glass.

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

16 oz. Kentucky bourbon (2 oz. per glass)

Crushed ice

12 to 14 sprigs fresh mint

8 mint julep glasses

1. In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Let cool and place in a covered container along with six to eight sprigs of mint. Refrigerate overnight.

2. Fill each glass with crushed ice. Add one tablespoon of mint syrup to each glass, followed by 2 ounces of bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon. Garnish with a sprig of mint before serving.

— Adapted from Kentuckyderby.com

Kentucky Burgoo

Serves a small army

When I heard the term "burgoo," I thought I was in for a recipe unlike anything I've seen before. But then I read a few burgoo recipes and wondered about the difference between burgoo and Brunswick stew, the latter of which is native to Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.

Both call for a variety of meats, including squirrel and other wild game, as well as mixed vegetables such as corn, potatoes, okra and lima beans. Both are very thick and hearty, although it is said a burgoo is not a true burgoo unless you can stand a spoon in it.

Scholars have noted that the main difference between Kentucky burgoo and Brunswick stew, besides geography, is that traditional burgoo calls for mutton. It also calls for a lot of Worcestershire sauce.

Regardless, burgoo is a stew best made in huge batches, which makes it a perfect fit for a Derby Day party. Please note, however, that it takes a long time to make, so you may wish to make it ahead of time. Giving the flavors time to mingle in the 'fridge will make it taste better on Derby Day anyway.

1 lb. mutton or lamb shoulder roast, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 lb. pork butt, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 1/2 lb. chicken leg/thigh quarters

1 cup unpeeled red potatoes, medium diced

1 cup red onion, medium diced

1 cup lima or fava beans

1 cup diced green peppers

1 cup diced, peeled carrots

1 cup corn kernels

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

3/4 tsp. pepper

1 to 2 quarts chicken stock, as needed

1 cup sliced okra

4 large garlic cloves, minced (more to taste)

2 cups canned chopped tomatoes

2 Tbsp. cider vinegar

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

12 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp. hot sauce

Parsley for garnish

1. Cut excess fat from chicken legs, leaving skin intact. Place mutton or lamb, pork and chicken in large stockpot. Cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil; skim any foam from the top. Reduce heat and simmer 2 hours.

2. Remove chicken legs, let cool. Remove skin and bones, shred meat and return to pot. Add potatoes, onions, beans, green pepper, carrots, corn, cayenne, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Simmer another 2 hours, adding stock, if desired, to thin (although remember this is supposed to be really thick).

3. Add okra, garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Simmer another hour. At this point, if you'd like your stew thicker and the ingredients more consolidated, continue simmering until you achieve the desired consistency. Serve garnished with parsley.

Benedictine Sandwich Spread

Makes about 1 cup

With all the heavy foods associated with Derby Day, it might be nice to also include a plate of dainty tea sandwiches. Famous Louisville caterer Jennie Benedict invented this sandwich spread sometime during the 1890s and it has long been a Kentucky Derby favorite.

It can be served on any kind of bread you like and can be jazzed up with additional sandwich toppings if desired. But the traditional version stands on its own. Please note that you will need cheesecloth for this recipe.

6 oz. cream cheese

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and grated

2 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce


Green food coloring

1. Place cream cheese in a bowl and mash with a fork until smooth. Wrap cucumber in cheesecloth, then squeeze out and discard juice. Add cucumber to cream cheese and mix thoroughly.

2. Wrap onions in cheesecloth and squeeze juice into cream cheese mixture, then discard onions or store them for use in another dish.

3. Mix mayonnaise and Tabasco sauce into cream cheese mixture. Season to taste with salt, then add 1 drop green food coloring, or just enough to very lightly tint the spread, and mix well.


The Legendary Hot Brown

Makes 2 sandwiches

The Brown Hotel was originally opened at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway in downtown Louisville in 1923. It operated there for 48 years until it closed in 1971, but like our own grand dame hotel, Hotel Roanoke, The Brown Hotel was later renovated and reopened.

The Hot Brown is a sandwich that was invented at The Brown Hotel by chef Fred Schmidt in the 1920s. According to hotel literature, Schmidt wanted to create a casual dish that could be served in the wee hours to famished guests who had worn themselves out dancing.

The Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich blanketed in Mornay sauce, replaced the standard ham-and-eggs offering and quickly became famous.

The Hot Brown reminds me of a legendary Roanoke sandwich, the Missouri Club, which was served at the Miller & Rhoads Tea Room. It is a standard club sandwich that becomes not-so-standard with a blanket of hot, cheesy sauce.

2 oz. butter

2 oz. all-purpose flour

16 oz. heavy cream

1/2 cup pecorino Romano, plus 1 Tbsp. for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

2 slices Texas toast, crust trimmed

14 oz. sliced roasted turkey breast

2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half

4 slices crispy bacon



1. In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste, or roux. Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.

2. Whisk heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven safe dish and cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set one half on each side of the sandwich. Completely cover the dish with one half of the Mornay sauce. Sprinkle with additional cheese.

4. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley, and serve immediately.

— Recipe courtesy of The Brown Hotel

Race Day Pie

Serves 8

Many people are familiar with this rich pie, which is commonly served on Kentucky Derby weekend. But they may know it by a different name — a name with a trademark guarded so viciously that I'm not even going to bother using it here.

The original version was invented by the owners of the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Ky., in 1950. Their recipe is guarded as closely as the name, but bakers in Kentucky and beyond have been making variations of the sweet treat ever since.

Although it originally called for walnuts, recipes these days seem to more frequently call for pecans. It should be no surprise that enterprising Kentuckians long ago started adding bourbon to the recipe, as well. And for that, I salute them.

I will share a basic version of the recipe, which comes courtesy of The Roanoke Times' new police reporter and native Louisvillian Chase Purdy, who got it from his mom, Connie Purdy. I will also share a boozier version for the bourbon lovers in the bunch. But make sure you use a good Kentucky bourbon!

Please note that these recipes do not call for pre-baking the pie crust. A lot of bakers like to partially pre-bake the crust when making a custard pie. If you fall in that category, feel free to do so. Let the pie shell cool before adding the filling, though.

Also, I recommend a deep-dish pie pan for these pies. If you use a standard pie pan, you may wish to place a cookie sheet or a piece of aluminum foil under the pan just in case the filling bubbles over.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup melted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine sugar and flour in a mixing bowl. Add eggs and butter; mix well. Stir in vanilla. Fold in chocolate chips and pecans.

2. Pour filling into the pie shell. Bake for 30 to 50 minutes or until set. Serve warm.

Race Day Chocolate Pecan Bourbon Pie

Serves 8

2 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled

2 Tbsp. bourbon

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Whipped cream for garnish, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cornstarch together, then whisk the mixture into the eggs in 3 stages. Whisk in the butter and bourbon. Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips. Scrape the filling into the pie shell.

3. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake until the top is crusty and golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Rotate pie 180 degrees halfway through the baking. Transfer pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

— Adapted from "Pie" by Ken Haedrich. Original recipe from Alice Colombo, former food editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal.